The month of November was the month my son turned two. I don’t think it’s a coincidence this is the same month in almost two years I failed to publish even one measly blog post.
What the hell have you been doing? One might wonder.
It’s a good question and the short answer is that I’ve been trying not to go insane.
If only I had paid attention to the warnings of what life would be like as the mother of a 21st century toddler.
Signs such as the first Valentines Day card I received as a mom. The one with the cartoon of a mama bear scurrying behind her wide-eyed cub, picking up armfuls of his clothes and toys and sporting equipment as he innocently tossed more shit over his shoulder for his mom to take care of.
That’ll never be me, I remember thinking as I held my then gelatinous and immobile son on my lap. MY kid is going to be picking up after himself.
Little did I know, I’d turn out the exact same as that mama bear, bustling around cleaning up after my toddler in the full knowledge that if I slack off even for one second, the camera crew of National Geographic will be at my door, ready to take shots of the towering piles of shit deemed as a modern-day Mound Building culture.
Or the ignored cautionary tale I received while I was pregnant from the banker/mother of 5 and 3 year-old-boys who confided in me how she was so amazed one night that she was sitting in an actual chair, reading an actual book while her sons played together on the lawn.
Five years without reading? Are you illiterate? I thought. IIIIIIIIII shall be reading books whenever I please when I have my baby.
I now eat these inner judgements every night before I go to bed and I fire up the Kindle to read exactly two sentences (one sentence being re-read from the night before). This means I’m reading books at the rate of one sentence per day. This means I’m illiterate.
I did not pay attention to the signs, and now my days are tied up in the wishful prevention of hitting-kicking-biting-throwing-yelling episodes.
I stuff away electronics and wallets and pocket knives in my underwear drawer like I’m about to have a group of clepto’s over for dinner.
I’m constantly pulling developmentally-appropriate activities, songs, and toys out of my ass and combating hunger with the gluten-free dairy-free snacks shoved in the pocket of every jacket, purse, and pants I own.
I reinforce any and every scrap of good behavior with the stench of a used car salesman. “Good job breathing!” I say through a forced smile, checking over my shoulder for men in white coats. “Way to inhale AND exhale!!! You’re so SPECIAL!”
I try to provide a structured daily routine even though I usually can’t remember what I did ten minutes ago or what it is I ran back into the house for.
And, even as the proud owner of an English degree, I’m exhausted by the linguistic gymnastics I must perform to avoid saying “No” or “You can’t”.
It’s not that I think I’ll shatter his self-esteem if I utter these words. It’s that it will cut the tantrum in half if I remember to say, “Oh yes! You can sit in the driver’s seat and drive like mommy and daddy! Just not right now.” Instead of what I want to say which is, “NO. NO FRICKEN WAY, you can’t drive the car, you’re TWO. Get real, kid.”
All this effort with the hiding and activity planning and snack preparation and positive reinforcement and toddler-semantics and I think things have to go smoothly. At least for ten minutes. I’ll pat myself on the back and pop a celebratory piece of gum in my mouth. And BAM! The little guy will lose his shit because he can’t have a piece of my celebratory gum.
Sometimes I do lose it and totally zone out. This explains why I can no longer locate any of those rubber tips that go on my earbuds, the strings to anything that cinches, my credit card every other week, or the matches to 75% of my once enviable earring collection.
And as far as what makes him happy, it’s mostly a mystery to me. Why does he brim over with glee when he gets to wear an extra pair of pants underneath his footsie pajamas? Or laugh hysterically when I tell him he can’t give me a kiss?
This is what makes people go crazy.
And just when I think I’m going to turn myself into CPS, I’ll get a moment of clarity.
Like on our recent trip out West as we scurried into our hotel room in the middle of the night. All I wanted to do was take off my jacket, but he instantly cried to be picked up. I struggled to get out of my jacket while balancing him on my hip, but I was so tired I couldn’t get my arms out.
I gave up and just sat on the bed with him. He looked around hazily while I squeezed him in his soft pajamas. I thought how difficult it must be for him to feel comfortable and competent in this unfamiliar hotel room no matter how many stars or glowing reviews on Yelp. And it dawned on me that there is so much he can’t yet do.
He must look at me and, despite my limitless faults, see how much I can do compared to him.
I can sit in a chair and not fall out of it almost all the time. I can eat a meal with less than half of it winding up on my clothes, shoes and floor. I can use this crazy technique called “language” to get what I want (sometimes).
He can’t do any of this stuff.
No wonder he hit/kicks/bites/throws/yells. Being a toddler with the will of a warrior and abilities of a slinky must be frustrating.
No wonder he clings to me.
No wonder he needs me all the time.
How did I get this position? To be the “can do-er” for all his “can’ts”. How is it that I should be so trusted?
And how is it that his can’t’s are disappearing so fast.
He wakes up every day from his nap a little taller, a little more capable, a little less cuddly. And I’m afraid it will keep happening until one day I will have been napped out of a job.
Then I’ll be the one craning my neck and yelling up at him.
I’ll be the one screaming for one measly little hug when all he wants to do is take his coat off and go to bed.
I’ll be the one driving him crazy.